Getting a Hamster
Before getting a hamster you need to be sure that you will be able to look after it for the rest of its life. The lifespan of a Chinese hamster is about 2 years, though I have had one boy live until 3 years and 10 months.
A pet can be a great way for children to learn about life, money and responsibility, though children will need the support and supervision of an adult in choosing and caring for their hamster. Other pets can cause a problem for hamsters so it should be housed away from other animals, such as cats, dogs and ferrets. Hamsters are generally not too bad for people with allergies. If this could be a problem, it is best to borrow a friend's hamster to see whether this affects you.
Hamsters can be left for 24 hours if they have enough food and water. For holidays longer than this other arrangements need to be made. Hamsters are very portable and some hotels allow animals. Family and friends are a good source of holiday hamster-sitters.
How Much Looking After Does a Hamster Need?
Hamsters require less time, space and money than many other pets, but they still require a regular care to ensure they remain healthy and happy.
Every day, you need to check your hamster's food and water supply, top it up as necessary, and remove any stored fresh food. I tend to add hamster food every 2-3 days to prevent the hamsters only picking out the yummy bits from the mix and leaving all the parts that are good for them but less tasty. You should also handle your hamster to keep him tame and to check for any signs of ill health.
Every few days it is a good idea to 'spot clean' by removing any obviously soiled substrate. Every week, your hamster needs a more thorough health check, including teeth and nails. If you spot any problems, you should take your hamster to the vet.
Your hamster's cage will need cleaning every one to two weeks when everything is removed, the cage and toys are cleaned with pet-safe disinfectant, and fresh bedding and substrate is provided. When cleaning the cage, check both the cage and toys for any damage.
What do I need?
- Food bowl
- Exercise ball
- Sand bath
A Hamster Owner's Responsibilities
- the need for a suitable environment
- the need for a suitable diet
- the need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
- the need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
- the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease
This means that by buying a hamster you (or the responsible adult if you are under 16) has a duty of care by law to:
- provide a suitable cage for the species with enrichment to keep the hamster occupied
- provide an environment that avoids discomfort, such as too hot/cold, damage to toys
- provide fresh food and water
- prevent suffering and disease by seeking veterinary help as needed
- protect the hamster from fear and distress, such as from excessive noise, unsupervised young children or proximity to other pets
Choosing A Hamster
When buying a hamster, check that it is healthy with clean fur, bright eyes and erect ears. Make sure there are no scabs and that there is no sign of diarrhoea. More information on giving a hamster a health check can be found here. The cage should be clean and contain food and water. The animals should be housed in single sex groups, or alone in the case of adult Syrians. The person selling the animal should be able to tell you its sex and be able to handle the hamster. They should allow you to handle the hamsters and make sure that you are happy doing so.
Where to Get a Hamster
Pet shops are a common source of hamsters. Some small independent retailers buy their animals from local breeders and can be knowledgeable about their care. Unfortunately this is not the case with all pet shops, so it is a good idea to ask about the source of the hamsters before buying from a pet shop. Pet shop hamsters can need a lot of work to tame them as they might not have been handled. Some pet shops stock hamsters that have come from rodent farms which produce animals as both pets and reptile food.
Vectis Hamstery is a hobby breeder. Many hobby breeders take great care in breeding happy, healthy and tame hamsters, and are knowledgeable in their care. Members of National Hamster Council affiliated clubs (Northern, Midland and Southern Hamster Clubs) have to abide by a code of conduct which includes breeding practices. Unfortunately anyone can call themselves a 'breeder' so care is needed in selecting a source for your new pet. Some useful questions to ask of a breeder can be found here.
As well as dogs and cats, hamsters can also be found in rescue centres. They may have been bought for a child who has lost interest, be the result of an accidental litter or the owner has had a change in circumstances and can no longer keep their pet. One hamster came to Vectis after being found as a stray! Please also ask questions of rescues before adopting because, as with breeders, anyone can call themselves a rescue.